Monday 18 December 2023, 19:45

FIFA President reflects on “unique” and “perfect” FIFA World Cup 2022™ in Qatar

  • Gianni Infantino hails “huge success” of 2022 tournament on and off the pitch

  • First FIFA World Cup™ in an Arab nation “part of making football truly global”

  • FIFA President says it was “definitely a catalyst for positive change in the country”

Gianni Infantino attended all 64 matches of the FIFA World Cup 2022™, and one year on from Argentina captain Lionel Messi lifting the trophy after an epic final with France in Qatar, the FIFA President said he still gets “emotional” when looking back at “the best World Cup ever”. Which words best describe your overall memories of the FIFA World Cup™ in Qatar 2022? Gianni Infantino: Well, the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ was, simply, the best [FIFA] World Cup ever. Happiness, joy, pride, fulfilment; everything that one can dream of when he thinks about the maximum that football can offer to the world happened in Qatar in 2022. And this particular [FIFA] World Cup, we had five billion viewers from home, we had three-and-a-half million, almost, spectators in the stadiums. One-and-a-half million came from all over the world in a joyful atmosphere. We had incredible matches, we had excitement, we had passion, we had heartbeat, we had joy, we had tears, we had emotion; we had everything.

The tournament gave you a unique opportunity as well, didn’t it? It was a unique [FIFA] World Cup, as well, in the sense that its compact nature allowed me to attend all 64 games. This is definitely a unique achievement in history. But many fans could attend, also, multiple games every day. Everything was close; the players could go back to their hotels, their headquarters, immediately after the game without having to fly somewhere. So, also, from a player’s perspective, it was extremely positive. The weather was perfect, the pitches were perfect, the stadiums were beautiful; everything was fantastic.   

On and off the pitch, as you said, it was a unique tournament. What made this one so special? Well, obviously, most importantly for most of the fans around the world it’s what happens on the pitch and, on the pitch, it was a unique [FIFA] World Cup as well: 172 goals, a record number of goals scored in a FIFA World Cup final tournament. We had three Asian teams, for example, proceeding to the next round. We had an African team for the first time in history in the semi-final, with Morocco. We had excitement, we had surprises, we had heartbeat. And we had, certainly, the best final ever. Thrilling, entertaining, goals here and there, extra time, penalty kicks; I mean, everything. Epic!

Fireworks explode during the pre match ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador

Off the pitch, as well, it was an incredible success. We had no incidents whatsoever, we had a joyful atmosphere. We had two million people in the Fan Zone, in the Fan Festival of FIFA. We had fans coming from all over the world and enjoying football. We had eight state-of-the-art stadiums, from Al Bayt, where the opening [ceremony] took place, to Lusail, where the final took place; all eight stadiums were absolutely stunning, fantastic. Over 53,000 spectators per match. Attendance going in, going out of the stadiums, everything ran smoothly.

A general view of the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar FIFA Fan Festival

The airport was fantastic. Everything worked extremely well, so I would say: a huge success on the pitch and, obviously, as well, for an organiser of a [FIFA] World Cup, off the pitch, thanks to Qatar, thanks to FIFA, thanks to our teamwork, and thanks to the way we, together, put this up.

Given where the tournament was previously staged, was it important to overcome a level of scepticism about the ability of nations elsewhere in the world to stage this sort of event? Definitely. It was important that the [FIFA] World Cup goes for the first time somewhere else, not in the usual countries, so to say; to go to Qatar, to go to the Arab world. This is part of our vision, as well, of making football truly global, and having a [FIFA] World Cup being organised in Qatar for the first time allowed, I think, two major things to happen.

The first one, is that the [FIFA] World Cup was definitely a catalyst for positive change in the country, in Qatar; not just as far as the infrastructure but, as well, as far as rights, for example, workers’ rights. It’s not me saying it, it’s the International Labour Organization saying that. And hundreds of thousands of workers today have much better conditions than before this [FIFA] World Cup happened, thanks to the changes that happened. And this is definitely one of the elements.

And the second element that this [FIFA] World Cup contributed to was that it opened the door to the world to visit and to witness – and to enjoy, as well – a new culture, the Arab culture. The welcoming way of a country, of a whole region – the whole GCC region – who welcomed fans from all over the world. For many, it was the first time going and witnessing and experiencing the Arab world, and they found out that, actually, these people there are welcoming. You can enjoy, you have a great atmosphere, good food; everything that every fan wants was absolutely there. So, from that perspective, definitely, as well a huge success.

Qatar supporters wave national flags

Why was it significant for FIFA to put one of its flagship tournaments in an Arab nation? FIFA is a global organisation, obviously. I think it’s important that whilst maybe some people were asking - and some were asking me as well - in the years before the [FIFA] World Cup took place, ‘Why Qatar?’ Our answer has always been: ‘Why not?’ FIFA has 211 countries who are part of FIFA, and they are all the same. They all have exactly the same rights, and the same duties, and if a country can host a [FIFA] World Cup then, of course, they should be allowed to host it.

I think, again, this is part of making football truly global, of uniting as well people through football and this particular [FIFA] World Cup, with the fact that it was concentrated in one place, not just one country, but basically one city, contributed, really, to create this unity amongst fans, who were mingling in the streets in the different areas of the city and finally, as well, in the stadiums.

Morocco fans at Souq Waqif

You’re the FIFA President, but of course you’re also a massive football fan. What was your favourite game of the tournament? You know, I attended all 64 games. So, for me as a football fan, this is already a dream. Well, it's actually more than a dream, something you could not even dream that came true and actually before, when I decided that I would like to attend all 64 games, I was a bit scared, because I said: ‘Well, maybe I will fall asleep during some of the games because it will be a lot.’ But actually not, because every game was very, very entertaining, but I think the climax was really the final.

General view inside the stadium during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France

An incredible game, an incredible result, extra time, penalties, last-second chances on one side, and then of course on the other side. [Lionel] Messi scoring three goals, [Kylian] Mbappé scoring four goals including the penalties, of course. And just incredible, incredible emotions, and this is what football only can write, right? I think if we ask – or if you would have asked before the [FIFA] World Cup - the best filmmaker in the world to write us the most thrilling and exciting final, it wouldn't have turned out like that.

Kylian Mbappe of France controls the ball against Lionel Messi of Argentina during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final

It was really unique, and then of course Leo Messi winning the [FIFA] World Cup at his fifth attempt – he participated in five [FIFA] World Cups and he won it, finally - including playing the highest number of games - 26 games - that any player has played. Before him, it was Lothar Matthäus with 25 games. Lothar as well was, of course, a world champion in 1990 in Italy, but this shows a lot how a great player like Leo Messi fights, with his nation, with his team, and becomes finally world champion. So, an incredible emotion to hand over the trophy to him, obviously.

But France, also in that final, put in a great game. Again, Mbappé scored a hat-trick and scored a penalty as well. He already won the [FIFA] World Cup four years earlier, he’s still young. Great team, incredible final, and let me just spend one word as well about the fans of Argentina, who were absolutely amazing throughout the tournament. I remember even in the group phase matches - and they started with a defeat against Saudi Arabia - they were supporting their team, tens of thousands of fans came supporting their team. Even after the games, they were staying in the stadium, and chanting and singing for an hour or two hours or three hours even for their team, and I think this gave the Argentinian players, as well, a special drive.

Lionel Messi of Argentina celebrates with the World Cup Trophy

Was there a particular moment of that FIFA World Cup™ that defines the experience of the [FIFA] World Cup Qatar 2022™? Every single moment of the [FIFA] World Cup has been special: all the people that we met, all the people that were there, the joy, the smiles in the eyes of the people, in the faces of all the people who are part of the [FIFA] World Cup, one way or another, was incredible. The games, the matches played were great.

But one moment, I think, that I could capture of that [FIFA] World Cup, was definitely the event that we organised in the Fan Festival of FIFA to thank the volunteers. We had over 400,000 applications to become a volunteer at this [FIFA] World Cup. We could select only 20,000 volunteers, and it was very emotional to be with these volunteers, who accompanied all of us throughout the tournament, to have a special event for them, with them, where we could thank them and celebrate them.

They were – and volunteers generally - are the face, the smile of a [FIFA] World Cup, the first person that visitors meet. And if that first impact is positive, and the last person before you leave, as well, who also says goodbye to you, if that message is positive, then the whole experience is already great, and the volunteers have been absolutely fantastic as well at this [FIFA] World Cup. Everything was perfect, everything was great, and looking and thinking back, well, I become always emotional.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino on stage during the Volunteer Thank You Celebration at FIFA Fan Fest